Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Most people in the West are familiar with the tale of Rudolph, the leader of Santa Claus' flying reindeer team. But where does this legend come from?

There's no denying it: the idea of Santa Claus flying through the skies on giant sleigh is intriguing, a story that will probably stick with us for many centuries to come. But it may surprise you to know the origins of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. We have the Victorians to thank for the reinvention of many (previously quite chilling) fairy tales and many of the traditions we associate with Christmas today. Yet Rudolph is a comparitively new tradition, created by, strangely enough, a U.S. store to cut its costs at Christmas.


Chicago, 1939. Montgomery Ward, a company running a group of department stores, was accustomed to purchasing coloring books for children visiting their shops during the Christmas period. This was an expensive promotional technique, and the company wanted to cut down on this cost, deciding to commission its own booklet to give away. Robert L. May, an employee of Montgomery Ward for 3 years, was given the task of designing the booklet. He created Rudolph, a reindeer with a red, shiney nose, in verse, trying it out on his 4 year old daughter to see how successful the legend would be, but he had to convince more people than his daughter - May's boss, was worried that the idea of a red nose would remind customers of drunkeds. He took his artist colleague, Denver Gillen, to Lincoln Park Zoo to draw some reindeer, red-nose and all, and the drawings proved to be enough to overcome Montgomery Ward's hesistancies. That year, 2.4 million copied of May's creation were produced and given to children, bringing to life the urban legend that is Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.

Let's not forget Donner and Blitzen

The idea of reindeer taking Santa Claus came long before Montgomery Ward tried to cut costs. An 1823 poem A Visit from Saint Nicholas, depicted Santa being helped on his way by the animals, and Robert L. May's brother-in-law wrote the words to the hit song Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer which would popularize the story all over the world.

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